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Q&A Interview with John Lasseter of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

November 2, 2011 by  



Award winning director John Lasseter is known for his work at Pixar.

In addition to his many and varied feature animation film credits, Lasseter serves as Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and Principal Creative Advisor, Walt Disney Imagineering.

A graduate of CalArts with a BFA in film, Lasseter is the only two-time winner of the Student Academy Award® for Animation for his student films “Lady and the Lamp” and “Nitemare.”  Lasseter made his feature film directorial debut with the now classic “Toy Story,” which was the first-ever feature length computer animated motion picture.

He subsequently directed the international box office hits “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Cars” and “Cars 2.” Creatively overseeing all films and associated projects from Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, his executive producing credits include the Oscar®-winning and nominated Pixar films “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3.”

He also served as executive producer for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Academy Award®-nominated features “Bolt,” “The Princess and the Frog” and “Tangled,” as well as the studio’s most recent release “Winnie the Pooh.” Lasseter is also the executive producer of Pixar’s new animated feature “Brave,” which will be released in 2012.

Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and Principal Creative Advisor, Walt Disney Imagineering John Lasseter with his star at the John Lasseter Star Ceremony in front of the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Tuesday, November 1, 2011. (Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

On November 1st, John Lasseter was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on November 2nd, the Disney/Pixar film “Cars 2” will be released on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD.

Here is a media Q&A interview with Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, John Lasseter.

Is it a testament to Pixar that you create such well-loved characters?

John Lasseter: At Pixar, we have been very fortunate to produce a number of incredible movies with characters that people really love. We’ve had the “Cars” and “Toy Story” movies, as well as “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Incredibles,” “WALL•E” and “Up.” Each of these sets of characters has struck a chord with the audience. I always say that we strive to create characters that are loved beyond the boundary of the film. To me, that is why our films are so successful.

 

How important is it to keep your characters alive when a movie finishes?

John Lasseter:  It’s incredibly important. We did a series of shorts with the “Cars” characters called “Mater’s Tall Tales” in between “Cars” and “Cars 2.” That was extremely fun to do, and it’s something we will continue to do.

 

How important are the shorts?

John Lasseter:  The shorts are a very important tradition at Pixar. They’re not only fun, but we use them to help develop talent. It’s an opportunity to let some of the younger artists and animators take a step up and create a story, or be a directing animator, or even direct.

 

From a production point of view, how is “Cars 2” different from previous Pixar movies?

John Lasseter:  One of the things that is dramatically different in this film is the level of complexity. It’s ten times more complex than any previous Pixar film. We really pushed the envelope with “Cars 2.”

 

What have been the biggest technical advances utilized for the new movie?

John Lasseter:  One of the big technical advances that looks great is the water in the movie. In the opening of “Cars 2,” you’ll notice how amazing the water looks. It’s really unlike any computer-animated water to date. We’re really proud of it.

 

Were the water simulations the result of technological advances?

John Lasseter:  Our guys found this new mathematical algorithm that plots the math of the ocean and the ocean waves. They implemented that into our system, which was a brand new way of looking at ocean waves. It really is amazing.

 

What else stands out for you about “Cars 2”?

John Lasseter:  I love the way that car imagery is found in every building and every landscape in our “Cars” world. If you look at the level of detail of this movie, it’s unlike anything that Pixar has ever created before. The more you look at it, the more you’ll see.

 

What research did you undertake in order to create “Cars 2”?

John Lasseter:  A ton of research goes into making all of our movies at Pixar. For example, we studied a lot of classic car racing movies in order to come up with the race scenes in “Cars 2.” We looked at movies like “Grand Prix,” “Le Mans” and “Days of Thunder” to see how cars and racing have been portrayed in films. It was really exciting. We even got a wide-screen print of “Le Mans” and showed it in our theater at Pixar. Those racing scenes are spectacular. They blew us away.

 

Did you speak to anyone involved in TV coverage of motor racing?

We talked extensively to a TV sports director named Artie Kempner, who works on the NASCAR broadcasts. He’s elevated the energy of the sport on TV and he’s a fantastic man. We asked him, “Hypothetically, if you didn’t have to worry about the safety of the camera, the cars or the drivers, where would you put the cameras?” We could put our virtual cameras wherever we wanted, so this information was extremely useful to us.

 

It’s easy to think about the visual side of animation movies, but how much effort goes into creating quality sound for the movie, too?

John Lasseter:  We put tremendous effort into the sound on this film. We created a movie where lots of different cars compete in a worldwide race, so we have the awesome American V8 sound of Lightning McQueen up against this gorgeous, very high-pitched Formula One sound of some of the other vehicles. In order to convey these different, unique sounds, we recorded different types of racecars.

 

“Cars 2” is also a spy caper. Did you research spy movies as well?

We studied spy movies at length. In particular, we looked at the tremendous chase sequences in the movie “Ronin” with Robert De Niro, “The Bourne Identity,” which takes place in Paris, and “Bullitt,” which was made in 1968.

 

Does your approach to vehicles change because your characters are cars and not the humans driving them?

John Lasseter: That’s what’s interesting about “Cars 2.” Typically, when you watch the chase scenes in the spy films I mentioned, the shots cut between the chase and the inside of the car, which is where you see the driver. For research purposes, our editors edited out all of the shots inside the car because the cars are our characters and we don’t have any drivers inside. It was fascinating to learn from that. I think it really helped us in the creation of “Cars 2.”

 

 

 

 

How important is it for Pixar to create high quality movies?

John Lasseter:  At Pixar, we recognize that quality is the best business plan. A quality movie is a great story that is totally entertaining. It entertains adults as well as kids. That’s always our goal.

 

How important is the story process to Pixar?

John Lasseter:  I think Pixar’s success is due to the wonderful stories we’ve created. We’re extremely passionate about story at Pixar and that’s always our focus when it comes to movies. I love to be entertained by a great story; that’s where we put all our effort.

 

What’s your toughest challenge in creating these incredible stories?

John Lasseter:  Not everything goes according to plan. In fact, every single Pixar film has had a painful stage in the development of the story. At one point or another, they’ve all been the worst motion picture ever made because the story simply does not work. We don’t give up on it, though. We trust ourselves, we trust the process, we trust the story and we just keep developing. We keep pushing forward.

 

Is that how you ensure the continued quality of Pixar movies?

John Lasseter:  We won’t put anything into production if we don’t think it’s working. It takes more than four years to make one of these films. I’m not going to put something into production that costs our brilliant artists at Pixar four years of their lives if it’s not a project they can be proud of for the rest of their lives.

 

What’s the most fun aspect of story development?

John Lasseter:  What’s fun about the story development at Pixar is the fact that it’s a journey. You don’t just write a script and then that’s the movie you make. It’s this constant evolution and the collaboration with voice actors, artists and animators. It’s incredibly fun to make these movies and I hope it shows when the audience watches.

 

“Cars 2” is available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on November 2nd!

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